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“Cinema is no longer driven by bhaajiwalas but by credible people”

Arindam Sil has been a prolific actor with almost 30 films to his credit. He has also been involved in the production department of Hindi films like Kahaani, Gunday and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! That’s not all, he recently tasted success with his second outing as a director in the urban thriller Ebar Shabor. The film, which hit cinemas on January 2, released outside Bengal yesterday. In conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta, the actor/director shares his thoughts about his films and the changing Bengali film industry

Your film, Ebar Shabor, has completed 50 days in Bengal and has now released in cinemas across the country. How does it feel?

I couldn’t have asked for more! It is a dream of every director to have the largest possible number of people watch your film. I too nurtured that dream and I am ecstatic that my film is enjoying such a great run at cinemas. It feels great as the more people it reaches out to, the better it is. I have been an actor for 28 years. Besides that, I have also been a line producer and an EP for not only Bangla films but also Hindi films like KahaaniGunday and the soon-to-release Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!Director Sujoy Ghosh is a dear friend of mine and so is Dibakar Banerjee, and it gave me so much inspiration to see the critical and commercial acclaim that these directors got from the audience across the country. As a director, I too hope to achieve that some day and it is now beginning to come true.

Did you expect the film to do so well?

No one can second guess the audience. But the premise of my film’s story was very rooted. I had a certain confidence about the film’s performance and that confidence came from the basic fact that the film is a thriller. The story deals with human relationships of a certain strata of the society. My only fear was whether the audience would accept it because it’s a thriller. And frankly speaking very few directors in Bengal barring someone like Srijit Mukherjee has been able to do justice to the thriller genre.

The film is also based on a literary character and I was confident that I had shot it in a very slick manner, which would appeal to the audience. I stressed production design because it is set in an urban space and deals with complex relationships that people deal with in cities. I poured in a lot of attention to detail in my film and dealt with this thriller wholeheartedly.

How do you think the audience beyond Bengal will react to a film like this?

We had a screening in Dubai recently and they really liked the film there. I guess the audience everywhere is pretty much the same. Everyone likes a good story and that is why some films have that universal appeal. People in Dubai were as thrilled to watch the film as the audience in Kolkata. Both gasped at the same scenes, and cheered and clapped at similar moments in the film. So I am confident of the appeal it will have across the Hindi audience too.

This is a very healthy period for the Bengali film industry, with so many films doing well and almost a new release every week. What do you think has triggered this change?

Cinema is now being made by educated people for an audience that is educated. That has brought about this change. It is a refreshing change where new ideas and talent are getting their due. And it’s all thanks to the fact that filmmakers are no longer bhaajiwalas who used to rule the roost as producers. These days, everyone from an MBA graduate to a Economics graduate, all credible people, are making a foray into the business of cinema. They have the right creative interests at heart and pursue filmmaking as a passion and don’t view films as purely a money-making vehicle.

But my only concern is that there is a decrease in the number of cinemas. So many single-screen cinemas are shutting down and they are not being replaced by multiplexes. It’s really sad that the screen count is not increasing because we have ample supply of films. So distribution outlets really need to improve.

Having said that, I agree that this is the golden period for Bengali films as not only my film, three other films prior to mine have managed a pan-India release and done really well at the box office.

You have worked on many Hindi films as executive producer. Have you used that experience in any way while directing your own film?

I have learnt a lot from Sujoy (Ghosh), when he was making Kahaani, especially in terms of controlling budgets. The film had a very tight budget and yet the production design looks larger than life. I have applied that in my film Ebar Shabor. Even while working with the YRF guys during Gunday and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, budget control was the biggest lesson I learnt. Yash Raj Films is known to make films which look spectacular on screen and I learnt about that while working with them. That was my takeaway. While Kahaani spent Rs 6-7 lakh on production design, even a big film like Gunday wrapped their Kolkata schedule within Rs 10 lakh. If you control these costs, it impacts your film’s bottom line and you stand a chance of making better profits.

It is a pity to see how much money is wasted in Hindi films some times. It really makes us sad because had we got even a portion of the money wasted, we t could have done so much more. So we have to optimise budget and sales.

Now that your film has done well, and the fact that it is a detective film, are you planning a sequel?

Yes, I already have a concept in mind for not one but two more installments. I have a producer on board too for the sequel. But I will first take up another film during the summer before I begin shooting the Shabor series, which will go on the floors in November. Most people think that the film did well because it was a detective film and is in keeping with the current trend in Bengali films. I want to clarify that it’s not true. Just prior to my film, another film Open Tee Bioscope did extremely well at the box office, and that was not a detective film. The audience is ready for experimental subjects; that’s why films are working.

Ebar Shabor is based on a literary piece of work. How involved was the writer, Shirshendu Mukhopadhay, with the making of the film?

Shirshendu Mukhopadhay is a veteran writer and his character Shabor is quite a popular character too. In fact, it took me quite a long time to get official permission to make the film because Rituporno Ghosh wanted to make a film on Mukhopadhay’s books. It was very kind of Ritu da to part with the idea.

I wrote a script of the film first and then took it to the writer to seek his permission for making the film. He thought I brought his characters alive in my script and gave me the nod to direct the film. He is also a part of the other films, which I will be making under this franchise.

Your first film, Aborto, didn’t do so well but you stuck with the team of actors and technicians from that film for this one.

My film was found critical acclaim. The actors Saswata Chatterjee, Abir Chatterjee and Ritwick Chakraborty are very good at their craft. According to me, we have a dearth of good actors in our industry, so we have to rely on the handful that we do have. These actors are all at the top of their game currently and I had to portray some really complex characters in my film, so they were the best bet. I did not doubt their capabilities even though my first film didn’t do well. Even the music director Bickram Ghosh is a genius. All these guys are ahead of their time and I am honoured to have worked with them.

What’s next?

I am acting in a very interesting film by Mainak Bhaumik titled Cholochitro Circus and my Hindi commitments in terms of line production are intact. There is a lot on my plate as far as direction goes, as I have planned the sequels of the Ebar series too, so I will be a very busy man for the next few months!

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